Medical Marijuana ADA Claim Goes Up in Smoke!

Published on: October 16, 2012

In a long-anticipated case of first impression, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that medical marijuana use is not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act in James v. Costa Mesa.

The plaintiffs were ill individuals who lawfully used medical marijuana under the state laws of California. They acquired their marijuana from dispensaries located in Costa Mesa and Lake Forest. These cities took steps to close the dispensary facilities within their respective boundaries. Plaintiffs brought suit in federal district court to prevent the cities from closing the dispensaries, alleging that the cities’ actions violated Title II of the ADA. The district court judge denied the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, asserting that the ADA does not protect against discrimination based on medical marijuana use since, under federal law, such use is not authorized.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit stated that the pivotal issue in the case was whether the use of medical marijuana constitutes the “illegal use of drugs” under § 12210 of the ADA, meaning that it would not qualify for the protections granted by the federal law. First, the court reviewed whether the use fell under the supervised use exception in § 12210, interpreting the statutory text and legislative history. The court determined that the proper reading of the statute implied that “the plaintiffs’ state-authorized medical marijuana use is not covered by an exception because it is not authorized by the CSA [Controlled Substances Act] or another provision of federal law.” Second, the court reviewed whether the use of medical marijuana was covered by a separate exception for drug use authorized by “other provisions of Federal law,” because of recent congressional action that permitted Washington D.C. to implement its own medical marijuana initiative. The court answered in the negative, finding that Congress’s mere acquiescence to D.C.’s initiative could not constitute affirmative authorization of the use of medical marijuana for the purposes of federal law.

This case may be useful to Rhode Island associations which are now challenged with a  medical marijuana law.  Massachusetts is likely to adopt one in the future.